3 Ways to be a Better Climber

One of the best climbers in the United States, Marti Shea, says she discovered her affinity for going uphill during her first bike trip out West, for an event called the Bicycle Tour of Colorado. "I had no idea about the distance or elevation of the first ascent, Monarch Pass," she says. "Being from New England, where most rises took me less than 10 minutes, when I heard the big climb was coming I assumed it might take me twice that. Twenty-three miles later, the pass peaked out at 11,300 feet of altitude, and I took away two big lessons: First, just because there's a curve in the road doesn't mean the top of the mountain is right around the corner; and, second, even though I loved climbing and seemed to be a natural, I had a lot to learn. Since then I've won the Mt. Washington Hillclimb three times. I'm always finding new ways to climb better and refine my technique."

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In her own words, here are three changes anyone can make.

Are You Fit to Ride?

Go Ahead, Train Heavy

More than any other type of riding, climbing rewards the lean. But this doesn't mean you should avoid climbs if you're carrying a little extra weight (especially in the off-season). Ride your local climbs regardless. When you lose even as little as three pounds, because you're moving less weight with the same power, you will see a marked improvement in your performance.

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Lighten Up Your Gears

In my opinion, most people are overgeared for climbing—equating tiny cogs and big rings with being tougher and stronger. When I first started climbing Mt. Washington, at 7.6 miles and an average gradient of 11.6 percent, I used traditional gearing. The only way for me to get up the mountain was to stand almost the entire way and pedal with an average cadence of 55. I now climb it with a compact chainring and 11-32 cassette, which lets me sit and spin a high cadence. Gone are the heavy legs and the lactic acid accumulation.

15 Proven Ways to Get Faster

Do Less

At the pace at which many riders climb, drafting doesn't seem as if it would pay off—but you'd be surprised at how much energy you conserve if you tuck behind someone. In addition, wind tends to become more and more of a factor as you go higher, so much so that drafting even at slow speeds makes sense. Beyond aerodynamics, there is a mental benefit to pacing off someone. Also, if you go steady and do less work for most of the climb, you'll have some energy saved to blast over the top.

More: 4 Tips for Cycling Uphill

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